This June – September, Norwich has been home to the British Art Show 8 – a touring exhibition of the most exciting contemporary art produced in this country. Carrie Patten, a North Norfolk-based writer whose work inhabits ‘the borderland between poetry and prose’ was commissioned to produce a creative response to the event. Here, she describes her process and how her final piece, ‘Vignettes Concerned with the Milky Stork’, was created.
I am a writer living and working in North Norfolk who originally studied visual arts at Norwich University of the Arts. More recently I’ve studied Creative Writing with the Open University and the Unthank School of Writing. My short story Cress (2014) was published in Lighthouse Literary Journal 7 and my poetry has appeared in Ink Sweat and Tears. I find myself using close observation of a moment as a starting point for my writing, I think as a result of study as a visual artist. Learning to look in detail and construct a response makes no distinction between the visual or literary as a method of exploring narratives.
Commissioned this summer by Lawrence Bradby (City Coordinator, Norwich) along with Tim Sykes to produce a creative written response to British Art Show 8, I felt encouraged by my open remit to write in whatever form the stimulus of artwork inspired. I felt liberated to follow my own path of inquiry, to explore elements of the exhibition which invited a creative conversation. Discussion with Lawrence in the commission’s early stages centered on the need to appropriate artwork, to claim it for my own purpose; to ask of the exhibition ‘what is this to me?’ This also lead me to contemplate the uniqueness of individual response.
I chose to close down critical engagement and focus on a sensuous response to the artwork, taking time to observe and to absorb the exhibition’s atmosphere across the different sites. Much of what I write typically begins with immersion in the visceral, triggered by image or memory association. Conjuring an emotional response from the tension in these moments means I find myself working from the inside out, adding character and voice to bring differing plains of consciousness to one narrative surface.
I chose to close down critical engagement and focus on a sensuous response
What dominated my engagement with British Art Show 8 was the idea of context: just as this touring exhibition changes its context and reinvents itself cumulatively from one gallery space to another, so do my existing narratives find themselves re-contextualised cumulatively when preoccupations encounter new stimulus. Similarly, short stories which I’m writing at present lift elements of tension from one narrative to the next to explore them in new context.
Working across genres I’m particularly interested in the borderland between poetry and prose. The commissioned writing developed originally in prose but engaged more layers of meaning when lines were broken into poetic form. An essential part of my development as a writer is to write constantly about the process of my writing, to identify patterns of creativity and to explore connections. Elements of the drafting process for this commission were discussed in a series of blogs published at carriepattenwrites.com
The commission experience has served to remind me that direct stimulus for writing may come from unusual sources. I’m still on a familiar narrative path, exploring themes and motif which engross me at this moment in time, but these have been re-invigorated by the encouragement to seek out new forms of engagement, to influence the paint strokes I select and apply to the narrative canvas. It has cemented my belief that frequently the over-riding necessity of routine, work and life can limit encounters with creative stimulus and that when given the opportunity, engaging in a new experience or with a new environment can lead to the awakening of surprising creative pathways and ultimately newly discovered narratives.
Vignettes Concerned with the Milky Stork
We rise and sleep
in the house we made of gingerbread;
by the kohl black water, where shoals pulse.
Whilst we are together we are poles apart.
We’re as different as sound and silence.
I think about how we are moving
relative to a background of stars,
we are granite alive with supernova.
Nothing I understand makes sense
when I’m here. Like the black flames.
It’s as if these days our world is a garment
turned inside out, with seams that reveal
the way we are stitched together
and once mapped, gives us clues
to how we have become undone.